04/11/05 — Opinion: Good friend passes

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Opinion: Good friend passes

By Gene Price
Published in News on April 11, 2005 1:45 PM

None among us has had a greater appreciation of our natural resources than Leon Smith. He hovered lovingly over the Bear Creek Watershed lake behind his home in the New Hope area. Despite his advancing years and failing health, he gave many hours to getting the lake restored and keeping its fish supply replenished.

And he was an avid fisherman -- fresh water, brackish water, salt water! Even in his World War II days in the Navy he could be found fishing off the stern of his ship.

Leon knew where to go, when to go, what to go after and what bait to use -- natural or artificial. He wasn't boastful. "Sharing" would be a more accurate description.

In recent years, Leon and I spent many delightful hours together -- at my office, at the Southco Outlet where he worked in his latter years, and on the lakeside behind his home.

While at Southco, he was quick to let me and Dan Ward know when he had a special on cases of our favorite outboard motor oil.

Leon and I kept promising each other that "first chance" we would take off and fish together -- for stripers at New Bern, or flounder, trout and spots at Beaufort, or for puppy drum at my camp on Goose Creek Island. We'd both get excited just talking about it.

The last couple of times Leon came by my office I wasn't there. But, characteristically, he always left something for me -- some surefire baits, or a unique plastic box just ideal for storing "important" fishing "stuff." Or a clever fishing scene in a shadow box.

They were things that would keep both of us excited about those fishing trips we would take together -- first chance.

Gloria and I went to California and on to Hawaii with our son, Charles and his family three weeks ago. We returned home in the wee hours of last Monday. I began leafing through the old newspapers. Friday's stopped me. Leading the obituary column was a studio portrait of a familiar and friendly figure.

Leon Smith, 83, had put away his fishing rods and reels for the last time. We wouldn't be making that trip we had been planning and looking forward to for so long.

And I had even missed the funeral of a very special friend.